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Kids living within good boundaries

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By John Lapp

Although much of today’s column relates to principles taught by psychologists Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, who captured the theme of boundaries with their book “Boundaries,” published in 1992. The first book was followed by “Boundaries with Kids,” which I have used, although I will include examples of some of the families who came to me for counseling, especially when one or more of their children appeared to not have had sufficient boundaries established in their lives, and the problems that had now developed.
Let’s begin by establishing what the word actually means as it relates to the raising of children. We all know that where we live, there are boundaries that define the property’s lines of where our property begins and where it ends. We also know that where we work, relating to the expected hours, work required, established level of payment for work performed, dress code, etc. Those who are married know that there are definite boundaries of expected behavior (boundaries) in order to establish and maintain the quality and longevity of the relationship, and we also know the results of going outside those boundaries. The same knowledge should be established and maintained between parents and their children.
When I had the responsibility to raise two children to adulthood, it was undertaken with more than the provision of food, clothes, an education and, of course their health and safety. In fact, as we neared the end of the course of raising them as required for those many years, we had hoped that we had also help build their character, with the knowledge of right and wrong and the positive and/or negative effects in place such that they would be able to guide themselves, hopefully recognizing some spiritual values that we also had helped form in the character development. The principle: if character makeup determines their future, child rearing is primarily about helping children to develop character that will take them through life safely, securely, productively, and joyfully. It is vitally important to not just see the present, but recognize that the future is actually now.
That is precisely why it is necessary for parents to adequately establish boundaries beginning as soon as you become a parent, in the child’s infancy years, and until they are ready to be “launched” from under the instruction, guidance, and control of the parent(s).
So, how does a parent learn how to live out the basic principles of boundaries with their children? Well, hopefully, this column has helped and will continue to help give a start with some necessary principles that parents can apply. Part of the problem will be how to enforce the boundaries in healthy and appropriate ways. It is vitally important, and must be stated, that children are not born with boundaries, so if they are to have them any, the parent(s) must teach!
Having been a School Psychologist for several years in the public school system, along with some private Christian schools, then for 30 plus years in private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist has been helpful, as it has provided me ample opportunity to address the importance of parents to take their responsibility seriously, in spite of the nature and behavior of the children. I have witnessed thousands of adults who were raised in a very “permissive” environment with few if any rules/boundaries, affecting how well the parent is able to enforce the necessary boundaries with their kids. I will also present a concept which has been a great help to hundreds of parents and their children since I have first presented it in the 1980s. It presents the concept of “freedom”, and when I begin by telling the child “I want to establish more freedom for you, is that okay with you?”, and, when they hear that, they get happy, and magically become his/her good “friend” but then when I explain what must be done by them to get the freedom expanded, happiness seems to temporarily disappear, although eventually the end result of his/her efforts will be worth it all.
Actually, next weeks’ column will also present the importance of the children eventually developing a sufficient level of responsibility to internalize this: “my feelings are my problem,” and/or “my attitude is my problem”, eventually developing into a responsible adult.